Progressively Speaking: Why it’s never OK to make racist jokes about anyone

Progressively Speaking: Why it’s never OK to make racist jokes about anyone

Rabbi Miriam Berger reflects on a topical issue with a progressive Jewish response

Roseanne Barr
Roseanne Barr

When a racist comment lacks nuance, it’s just racism. But humour is difficult to define, because it doesn’t have fixed rules. A funny joke in one context is  rude in another.

Humour may not have rules, but it is full of nuance. A stand-up comedian spends years perfecting the art of reading their audience, building up the trust of the crowd and then enabling them to laugh at jokes that are just on the edge of appropriate.

It makes us laugh even more when we can’t believe we are laughing at something that perhaps just minutes before we would have never thought to be a laughing matter.

The winner of Britain’s Got Talent, Lee Ridley, known as the “lost voice guy”, is the perfect example of how expertly and quickly he teaches the audience the nuances of his dark humour, so we are laughing with him.

His jokes, taken out of context and put into someone else’s voice, could, however, be deeply offensive.

Social media has no nuance and therefore needs lots of rules. There is no voice, no context, so every comment needs to be able to stand alone without that building of a relationship with the audience.

Roseanne Barr is the perfect example of “it’s a joke!” being no excuse. When will people learn that social media is not a place for an off-the-cuff comment akin to dinner party banter among people who you already know agree with you?

There should also be no place for character assassination by Facebook comment. Nobody should send a tweet or post a comment about another person unless they were willing to say it to that person’s face in front of a packed arena.

If only every celebrity such as Roseanne, who shows her true racist colours and loses a lucrative series on prime time television, were to be a warning to others about their own inappropriate views being shared on these platforms. If only every MP, whose words on social media become their downfall, reminded others to think before spreading hate.

Let’s celebrate US TV network ABC’s swift response of cancelling Roseanne’s series after naming racism as racism and let us find a way of defining some much-needed rules when it comes to using social media.

Rabbi Miriam Berger serves Finchley Reform Synagogue

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